There are lots of reasons to look forward to Easter. For Christians, it is the most sacred of religious holidays. For children, it marks the coming of the Easter bunny. For the non-religious, it signals the unofficial start of spring. I celebrate it for all of these reasons, and more---like for the food! Most people do not consider Easter a big "food holiday" like say, Thanksgiving or Christmas, but for me, it includes some of my favorite food traditions.
In my family we always began the Easter holiday by coloring eggs. Later, my Italian grandmother would knead together a batch of sweet, bread-like dough and form little handled baskets around each egg. She'd brush them with an egg wash, and after they were baked, each colorful egg would be nestled in a shiny, golden, edible basket. We did not eat these treats until Easter morning, when they would be the centerpiece of the breakfast table. I do not fancy myself as much of a baker, and admit that I have not attempted these on my own. However, this year I plan to hunt down a recipe and give it my best shot (unfortunately, hers has been lost....or perhaps was never written down). If your family makes these little treats, email me your recipe and I'll post it on this blog!
Although it has been many years since I've had one of my grandmother's egg baskets (sadly, she passed away in 1989), I have made a special point to keep up another one of her Eastertime food traditions--pizzachina. I later learned that what my family called "pizzachina", or "filled pizza" is more commonly known as "pizza rustica". I've been told that pizzachina and pizza rustica are actually two different dishes, but for reasons I do not know, my family called this specific type of Easter pie "pizzachina", and therefore, so do I. Our pizzachina is a savory pie of ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, eggs, and prosciutto, baked into a flaky crust. My grandmother baked her pizzachina in a large, rectangular baking pan, as we were always quite a crowd during the holidays. I make a smaller version in a 9-inch round cake pan.
Like the recipe for the egg baskets, I never got my grandmother's recipe for pizzachina. But taste-memory is powerful, and after trying several different versions while in my 20s, I finally found one that tasted most like the pizzachina of my childhood. Nick Malgeri, renowned baker, teacher, and author, includes a recipe for pizza rustica in book How To Bake which, after some modifications, is the closest I've come to replicating my grandmother's recipe. Now that I think of it, Nick was actually the person who told me pizzachina and pizza rustica are two entirely different dishes (I had the good fortune to take a recipe writing class from him a number of years back). I guess he would know, but at the same time, really, what's the difference? Family tradition is more important than accuracy!
Pizzachina is meant to be sliced into pieces and eaten at room temperature. We always serve it alongside our colored eggs, hot-cross buns, and fruit salad on Easter morning, It is definitely not diet food, and is rich and dense, so just a small slice will be quite filling. I guess this is part of the reason I only make it once a year!
(Based on and adapted from an original recipe for Pizza Rustica by Nick Malgieri)
The dough in Nick Malgieri's recipe is slightly sweet, which balances nicely against the rich cheeses and salty prosciutto. My grandmother's dough did not include any sugar, but (shhh!) I actually like this version a bit better. The filling is as close a match as I can muster to Grandma's.
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
6 T cold, unsalted butter (cut into 1 T pieces)
1 egg plus one egg white
For the filling:
For the filling:
1 lb ricotta cheese (whole milk is best)
1/4 c grated Pecorino Romano cheese
8 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4- 1/2 lb prosciutto, shredded
1/4 c flat leaf parsley
Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten with 1 t wate
Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten with 1 t wate
1- 9 inch round cake pan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and put the rack in the middle position.
First make the dough by combining the dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to mix. Toss the butter pieces around the bowl and pulse until a powdery consistency is reached. Add egg/egg white and continue to pulse until dough forms a ball on the blade. Remove dough and divide into two pieces (1/3 and 2/3 of dough). Press into separate discs, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
To make the filling, place the ricotta into the work bowl of the food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, add eggs, and stir in remaining ingredients, one at a time. Set adide.
Roll the larger of the chilled dough discs into a large, 12 inch circle (like a pie crust), to about 1/4 inch thick. Lay in the bottom of the baking pan and gently press to form to the sides (you will have some overhang). Pour the filling inside the crust.
Roll out the remaining 1/3 crust and cut into long strips. Form a lattice pattern over the pie, pressing the ends into the edge of the bottom crust. Fold over the edges, forming a thicker edge, and press to seal.
Bake about 45 minutes until the filling is set and the crust is golden and baked through. Cool on a rack.
Gently unmold by inverting onto a platter. Serve at room temperature. Keep refrigerated after the first day of baking.